Preoperative serum prostate specific antigen levels between 2 and 22 ng./ml. correlate poorly with post-radical prostatectomy cancer morphology: prostate specific antigen cure rates appear constant between 2 and 9 ng./ml

J Urol. 2002 Jan;167(1):103-11.


Purpose: Serum prostate specific antigen (PSA) is widely used as a guide to initiate prostatic biopsies and to follow men older than 50 years old with and without prostate cancer. However, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a common cause of serum PSA values between 2 and 10 ng./ml. A better understanding of the relationships among serum PSA, prostate cancer and BPH is important.

Materials and methods: A total of 875 men underwent radical prostatectomy at our institution between December 1984 and January 1997. Of these men 784 had a serum PSA of 2 to 22 ng./ml., including 579 with the largest cancer located in the peripheral zone of the prostate. Of the 579 men 406 had serum PSA followups for greater than 3 years after radical prostatectomy. We examined Pearson correlations (R2) between preoperative serum PSA, and the volume of Gleason grades 4/5 and 3 to 1 cancer in 784 men, separating peripheral zone from transition zone cancers. We used broken line regression with break points of 7 and 9 ng./ml. preoperative PSA to summarize the relationship of each PSA doubling to 5 different morphological variables in 579 men with peripheral zone cancer. A 9 ng./ml. break point was used for prostate weight. Trend summaries with a local regression line for the relationships between 6 morphological variables and PSA were superimposed on full scatterplots of the 579 men with PSA less than 22 ng./ml. Cox proportional hazard models were used to examine 5-year PSA failure-free probabilities based on 406 men with minimal PSA followups greater than 3 years at break points of 7 to 9 ng./ml. PSA.

Results: Pearson correlation between cancer volume and preoperative serum PSA in 875 men was weak (r2 = 0.27) and driven by large cancers with serum PSA greater than 22 ng./ml. For peripheral zone cancer the overall R2 x 100 for 641 men with low and high grade cancer was 10% and only 3% for low grade cancer, that is almost no PSA produced by these peripheral zone cancers enters the serum. All morphological variables changed at rates of doubtful medical significance below a PSA of 7 to 9 ng./ml. but at rates that were significantly worse above 9 ng./ml. R2 for these relationships was never greater than 15%. Large individual morphological variations at all levels of PSA emphasize the serious limitation of PSA as a predictor of prostate cancer morphology. Below 9 ng./ml. prostate weight increased by 21% for each doubling of PSA but above 9 ng./ml. the increase was only 4.8%.

Conclusions: Preoperative serum PSA has a clinically useless relationship with cancer volume and grade in radical prostatectomy specimens, and a limited relationship with PSA cure rates at preoperative serum PSA levels of 2 to 9 ng./ml. Trend summaries for prostate weight on broken line regression showed that below 9 ng./ml. BPH is a strong contender for the cause of PSA elevation, constituting the primary cause of the over diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen / blood*
  • Prostatectomy*
  • Prostatic Hyperplasia / blood
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / surgery


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen